In an effort to reach out to Christians in the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI carried an address in Arabic for the first time. The Pope's weekly general audiences at the St. Peter's Basilica are broadcast worldwide and translated into various languages, including English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Polish, Hungarian and Russian. On Wednesday, the sermon was translated into Arabic for the first time in history.
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"The pope prays for all people who speak Arabic. May God bless you all," he said in Arabic. A priest then read a summary of the pope's Italian language weekly address, which discussed the Second Vatican Council's 50th anniversary, in Arabic for the first time.
Pope preach in Arabic
The initiative reflects the church's growing concern with the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and their decreasing numbers in the local population.
A century ago, Christians comprised 20% of the Middle East's population; the numbers went down to 5% due to immigration prompted by wars in the region. The Christian population in the Middle East is currently estimated at 12 million, and could halve by 2020 if security and birth rates continue to decline.
The Vatican said the addition was made to show the pontiff's concern for Christians in the Middle East and to remind both Muslims and Christians to work for peace in the region.
A Vatican statement said the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics wanted to continue the spirit of his trip to Lebanon last month. During the visit, the Pope urged Christians and Muslims to end the Syrian conflict.
The sermon was broadcasted live on radio and television worldwide. Vatican officials hoped the sermon would send a comforting word to Christians in a region which is home to many Christian holy places.
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